When Stacey and Derek Edinger met as students at Cornell University, they didn’t know their future would lie in the same area as their alma mater, but that’s what fate had in store for them. An introduction to an old barn on the west side of Seneca Lake was what sealed it for them and that barn in Geneva became the ideal place for Brewery Ardennes.
“Had the physical location been somewhere else, perhaps it would have factored in differently to our decision-making process,” Stacey says. “When we saw the property, it made us investigate more about Geneva itself and we loved how connected the community is here.”
The historic barn on Snell Road, just a five minute drive from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, became home to their new endeavor within a stone’s throw of other wineries and breweries in Geneva.
Inspired by their travels throughout Belgium, Brewery Ardennes opened its doors in May 2021. Thanks to a supportive environment and help from their local colleagues, Brewery Ardennes has earned the praises and recommendations of area businesses.
Businesses Helping Other Businesses
The Edingers look at their proximity to similar businesses as a blessing, not competition.
Centered within other agri-tourism businesses of the Finger Lakes, Brewery Ardennes is enmeshed in Geneva’s business ecosystem that values everyone in the community. In particular, the Edingers appreciate the support they’ve received from likeminded proprietors in the hospitality industry who also help customers explore experiences in the region.
“Every day, we talk to our visitors about how they found us, and often it’s from a referral from another local business,” Stacey notes. “And we’re referring our guests to other local businesses too. I can’t think of bigger, more tangible proof of people supporting each other.”
Derek adds, “In creating this ecosystem, you want to have confidence that the business down the street is going to take care of guests when you refer them. When I suggest that our guests go to Billsboro Winery, Twisted Rail Brewing Company, or somewhere in downtown Geneva, it’s coming from a very high level of trust that they’re going to have a good and unique experience.”
The Edingers often provide visitors with area recommendations personally. “People love to know how things are made,” Stacey says with a smile. “They are curious to know ‘Who made this?’ and ‘Are you the owner?’ Most guests are really excited to learn that we’re involved from beginning to end,” Stacey explains. “We love having that connection with them.”
Support from the Ecosystem
The spirit of community helped the Edingers when they first decided to open the brewery. They joined a pilot program from the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency that provided the entrepreneurs with valuable guidance on what they would need to undertake the enterprise. Government agencies in Geneva were also helpful, providing them with key infrastructure information like traffic data and waste water.
The pair found their alma mater helpful, thanks to Cornell’s extensive agricultural research programs and services. The university provides access to experts and equipment a startup would normally not be able to purchase initially.
“Small breweries can’t afford extensive testing laboratories like larger operations. Testing for contamination and certain aspects of beer quality can require $250,000 test equipment,” says Derek. “Cornell has facilities available for use by businesses like ours that support the whole region.”
An additional benefit is that Cornell continues to make significant strides in is developing new varieties of crops that benefit Ardennes and other brewers in the region. At one point in American history, upstate New York was the primary producer of hops, a key ingredient in beer. That ended with Prohibition, but Cornell is working to restore that legacy. The university is also developing a new strain of barley, another primary ingredient in beer, creating Excelsior Gold, specifically designed to thrive in the region’s wet climate.
“One of the elements that makes Finger Lakes breweries popular with both visitors and residents alike is their use of local ingredients and support for sustainable agriculture,” said Larry Smart, professor of horticulture at Cornell AgriTech. “It’s an exciting time to partner with area breweries like Ardennes to breed and trial new hop varieties that will both satisfy consumer demand for local flavors and grow well under New York State conditions.”
Proud to be “Geneva Made”
Sourcing ingredients, supplies, and other materials from New York vendors is important for Stacey and Derek in all parts of their operation: beer, food and manufacturing. Along with sourcing ingredients for their food offerings from nearby farms, they also sourced their fermentation tanks from Geneva’s own Vance Metal, one of the few companies in the United States that makes the specialized tanks.
Derek points to the “Geneva Made” mark on local products as a sign of pride and a way of luring new businesses to the area, an effort that he feels will bear fruit for his company in the coming years. “We want to promote other businesses to locate here so we can continue to build our community. Imagine where can we go when a customer sees that Geneva Made mark and thinks, ‘Oh, that was made in Geneva!’ That’s something that’s really going to be fun to be a part of.”